The Dance of the Bullfight

A long honored tradition in Spain, southern France, and Mexico bull-fighting is quite controversial for Americans.

Bullfight Spain

As the band perks up, the finely dressed matadores, picadores, horses, and helpers all parade around the bull ring. The anticipation is building as whispered discussions about the rules of this fight, who is the best matador, and what do you want to drink add to the excitement.  Finally, there he is – the matador.  And there he is- the bull.  They stand, looking at each other, sizing each other up, and then the dance begins…

Bullfight Spain

The first time I went to a bullfight, I was a young 20-something. I was, as most young people are, very idealistic and empathetic. I was torn whether or not to even attend the bullfight, let alone enjoy it. I felt like I was a traitor to the animal if I went. After all, the bull was being tortured by the picador. I had a difficult time watching the bullfight, and left enraged at the treatment of the bull.

Bullfight Spain

Some thirty years later, I still feel that the bull is at a disadvantage. It is harried, stabbed, all things I detest in the treatment of animals. I went back to the bullfight trying to understand the allure, the culture behind it.  As I entered the bullring, I noticed that it was nowhere near as full as I remembered from that time long ago. Then the stands were bursting at the seams, and people were more animated. This time, not only was the crowd smaller, but they seemed much more subdued, maybe even reverent. Yes, reverent.

Bullfight Spain

I think that is the main difference in the dance between cruelty and culture.  As an American, I wanted to root for the underdog, the bull. I didn’t see him as an animal bred for his stature, his temperament, a being that would stand and fight to the death, never giving up, defying the matador and the others that tormented him. I didn’t see the valor in the matador as he danced with death at every turn. Where before I saw arrogance and taunting, now I saw calculated moves and an innate understanding of the mind of the animal he faced. I saw the grace and the sure-footedness of experience and training, of a lifetime of study.  I paid attention to the audience and their murmurs, how they worried when the matador looked like he was in trouble, or when they Oléd when he brushed the back of the bull showing the proximity of the two fighters.

Bullfight Spain

I began to understand how some Spaniards, as other countries around the world, have held on so tightly to such a controversial tradition.  In Portugal, it has been outlawed to kill the bull at a bullfight.  But, is this more humane?  He still had to endure some taunting, and even torture.  And what happens to the bull after the match?  I’m not sure just not killing the bull is the answer.  I’m certainly not sure that having bullfights is the answer.  It’s still a hard question for me, although I have to say, I lean toward all people holding on to their traditions.

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In today’s world of technology, where a person can be friends and have constant contact with people who live in other countries, other cultures, I think there is a real sense that the world is becoming more and more homogenized.  I don’t think this is good.  I travel to learn about others and their traditions.

Bullfight Spain

…on that humid summer evening.  The outcome may have been preordained, but the moves, the steps, the dance changes.  The matador marches around the ring, one hand on his chest.  He throws his hat into the stands as the audience showers him with flowers.  He is not only triumphant, but he has danced as the others before him, for centuries, to carry on this tradition that many hold so dearly in their hearts.

Bullfight Spain

What do you think?  Please leave a comment about your feelings.  I think this is a hard one!

9 thoughts on “The Dance of the Bullfight”

  1. Thoughtful article Corinne. Yes Bullfighting is cruel but life is cruel. This is tradition and pleasure to those in the know. Man v Beast. Gladiatorial. There is an eroticism to La Corrida that only many people get but most deny. I believe you to be an aficionada. Ole!

  2. I was torn on whether to attend a bullfight when we were in Spain a few years ago but we didn’t get around to it. Like you, I’m glad the Spaniards have preserved this part of their culture but I don’t know if I can go through the whole event watching them taunt the bull. I think I’m good with virtually watching this bullfight through your post. Beautifully presented!

    1. Thank you Mary for your comment. I don’t think I’ll be going to another bullfight, but I have to say, that I found it interesting how my life stage has tempered my view.

  3. Corinne, I’ve been to several bull fights, and you make a point. It’s very hard to watch, given the way we were taught to feel about the treatment of animals. I find it interesting that Catalunya, the birthplace of bullfighting according to many, has now banned it. But, at the same time, as I travel the world, I am learning all the time that you can’t necessarily make judgements about another culture on your own terms. It is what it is. If you don’t like it, don’t go. BTW, you also mentioned that the crowds are small. I think they’re getting smaller all the time in Spain. Football, on the other hand, is really the national game of Spain. Força Barça.

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